William Finnegan, above, is the author of the piece Off Diamond Head in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker. A compelling coming-of-age story of a Californian kid suddenly transplanted to Hawaii. | Photo: William Finnegan

Long Read: Surfing in The New Yorker

Want to feed that inquisitive, wonderful mine o' yours?

There isn’t a magazine in the world that can touch The New Yorker. Nineties years in the biz (started in 1925), this small paper magazine of one hundred pages or thereabouts has the ability to make the dullest subject, car recalls, say, and turn it into the most compelling and educating thing that has touched your eyes since, yeah, the last New Yorker feature you read.

And the thing about The New Yorker is… it never gets old. Despite a rigid house style, the stories sing.

In the June 1 issue, we get personal history piece Off Diamond Head by William Finnegan. Has there been a better account of a kid finding his way in the ocean than this? Moves to Hawaii from California ’cause his dad gets a gig as a production manager on a Hawaiian musical variety show. Day one, the kid grabs his board and looks for waves.

Here’s an excerpt… 

I ran to the beach for a first, frantic survey of the local waters. The setup was confusing. Waves broke here and there along the outer edge of a mossy, exposed reef. All that coral worried me. It was infamously sharp. Then I spotted, well off to the west, and rather far out at sea, a familiar minuet of stick figures, rising and falling, backlit by the afternoon sun. Surfers! I ran back up the lane. Everyone at the house was busy unpacking and fighting over beds. I threw on a pair of trunks, grabbed my surfboard, and left without a word…

…Nothing was what I’d expected. In the mags, Hawaiian waves were always big and, in the color shots, ranged from a deep, mid-ocean blue to a pale, impossible turquoise. The wind was always offshore (blowing from land to sea, ideal for surfing), and the breaks themselves were the Olympian playgrounds of the gods: Sunset Beach, the Banzai Pipeline, Makaha, Ala Moana, Waimea Bay.

All that seemed worlds away from the sea in front of our new house. Even Waikiki, known for its beginner breaks and tourist crowds, was over on the far side of Diamond Head—the glamorous western side—along with every other part of Honolulu anybody had heard of. We were on the mountain’s southeast side, down in a little saddle of sloping, shady beachfront west of Black Point. The beach was just a patch of damp sand, narrow and empty.

I paddled west along a shallow lagoon, staying close to the shore, for half a mile. The beach houses ended, and the steep, brushy base of Diamond Head itself took their place across the sand. Then the reef on my left fell away, revealing a wide channel—deeper water, where no waves broke—and, beyond the channel, ten or twelve surfers riding a scatter of dark, chest-high peaks in a moderate onshore wind. I paddled slowly toward the lineup—the wave-catching zone—taking a roundabout route, studying every ride.

The surfers were good. They had smooth, ungimmicky styles. Nobody fell off. And nobody, blessedly, seemed to notice me. I circled around, then edged into an unpopulated stretch of the lineup. There were plenty of waves. The takeoffs were crumbling but easy. Letting muscle memory take over, I caught and rode a couple of small, mushy rights. The waves were different—but not too different—from the ones I’d known in California. They were shifty but not intimidating. I could see coral on the bottom but nothing too shallow.

There was a lot of talk and laughter among the other surfers. Eavesdropping, I couldn’t understand a word. They were probably speaking pidgin. I had read about pidgin in James Michener’s “Hawaii,” but I hadn’t actually heard any yet. Or maybe it was some foreign language. I was the only haole (white person—another word from Michener) in the water. At one point, an older guy paddling past me gestured seaward and said, “Outside.” It was the only word spoken to me that day. And he was right: an outside set was approaching, the biggest of the afternoon, and I was grateful to have been warned.

As the sun dropped, the crowd thinned. I tried to see where people went. Most seemed to take a steep path up the mountainside to Diamond Head Road, their pale boards, carried on their heads, moving steadily, skeg first, through the switchbacks. I caught a final wave, rode it into the shallows, and began the long paddle home through the lagoon. Lights were on in the houses now. The air was cooler, the shadows blue-black under the coconut palms. I was aglow with my good fortune. I just wished I had someone to tell: “I’m in Hawaii! Surfing in Hawaii!” Then it occurred to me that I didn’t even know the name of the place I’d surfed.

It was called Cliffs. It was a patchwork arc of reefs that ran south and west for half a mile from the channel where I first paddled out. To learn any new spot in surfing, you first bring to bear your knowledge of other breaks—all the other waves you’ve learned to read closely. But at that stage my archives consisted of ten or fifteen California spots, and only one that I really knew well: a cobblestone point in Ventura. And none of this experience especially prepared me for Cliffs, which, after that initial session, I tried to surf twice a day.

It was an unusually consistent spot, in the sense that there were nearly always waves to ride, even in what I came to understand was the off season for Oahu’s South Shore. The reefs off Diamond Head are at the southern extremity of the island, and thus pick up every scrap of passing swell. But they also catch a lot of wind, including local williwaws off the slopes of the crater, and the wind, along with the vast jigsaw expanse of the reef and the swells arriving from many different points of the compass, combined to produce constantly changing conditions that, in a paradox I didn’t appreciate at the time, amounted to a rowdy, hourly refutation of the notion of consistency. Cliffs possessed a moody complexity beyond anything I had known.

Mornings were especially confounding. To squeeze in a surf before school, I had to be out there by daybreak. In my narrow experience, the sea was supposed to be glassy at dawn. In coastal California, early mornings are usually windless. Not so, apparently, in the tropics. Certainly not at Cliffs. At sunrise, the trade winds often blew hard. Palm fronds thrashed overhead as I tripped down the lane, board on my head, and from the seafront I could see whitecaps outside, beyond the reef, spilling east to west on a royal-blue ocean. The trades were said to be northeasterlies, which in theory was not a bad direction, for a south-facing coast, but somehow they were always sideshore at Cliffs, and strong enough to ruin most spots from that angle.

And yet the place had a growling durability that left it ridable even in those battered conditions. Almost no one else surfed it in the early morning, which made it a good time to explore the main takeoff area. I began to learn the tricky, fast, shallow sections, and the soft spots where a quick cutback was needed to keep a ride going. Even on a waist-high, blown-out day, it was possible to milk certain waves for long, improvised, thoroughly satisfying rides. The reef had a thousand quirks, which changed quickly with the tide. And when the inshore channel began to turn a milky turquoise—a color not unlike some of the Hawaiian fantasy waves in the mags—it meant, I came to know, that the sun had risen to the point where I should head in for breakfast. If the tide was extra low, leaving the lagoon too shallow to paddle, I learned to allow more time for trudging home on the soft, coarse sand, struggling to keep my board’s nose pointed into the wind.

Afternoons were a different story. The wind was lighter, the sea less seasick, and there were other people surfing. Cliffs had a crew of regulars. After a few sessions, I could recognize some of them. At the mainland spots I knew, there was usually a limited supply of waves, a lot of jockeying for position, and a strictly observed pecking order. A youngster, certainly one lacking allies, such as an older brother, needed to be careful not to cross, even inadvertently, any local big dogs. But at Cliffs there was so much room to spread out, so many empty peaks breaking off to the west of the main takeoff—or, if you kept an eye out, perhaps on an inside shelf that had quietly started to work—that I felt free to pursue my explorations of the margins. Nobody bothered me. Nobody vibed me. It was the opposite of my life at school.

I had never thought of myself as a sheltered child. Still, Kaimuki Intermediate School was a shock. I was in the eighth grade, and most of my new schoolmates were “drug addicts, glue sniffers, and hoods”—or so I wrote to a friend back in Los Angeles. That wasn’t true. What was true was that haoles were a tiny and unpopular minority at Kaimuki. The “natives,” as I called them, seemed to dislike us particularly. This was unnerving, because many of the Hawaiians were, for junior-high kids, quite large, and the word was that they liked to fight. Asians were the school’s most sizable ethnic group, though in those first weeks I didn’t know enough to distinguish among Japanese and Chinese and Korean kids, let alone the stereotypes through which each group viewed the others. Nor did I note the existence of other important tribes, such as the Filipinos, the Samoans, or the Portuguese (not considered haole), nor all the kids of mixed ethnic background. I probably even thought the big guy in wood shop who immediately took a sadistic interest in me was Hawaiian.

He wore shiny black shoes with long, sharp toes, tight pants, and bright flowered shirts. His kinky hair was cut in a pompadour, and he looked as if he had been shaving since birth. He rarely spoke, and then only in a pidgin that was unintelligible to me. He was some kind of junior mobster, clearly years behind his original class, just biding his time until he could drop out. His name was Freitas—I never heard a first name—but he didn’t seem to be related to the Freitas clan, a vast family with several rambunctious boys at Kaimuki Intermediate. The stiletto-toed Freitas studied me frankly for a few days, making me increasingly nervous, and then began to conduct little assaults on my self-possession, softly bumping my elbow, for example, while I concentrated over a saw cut on my half-built shoeshine box.

I was too scared to say anything, and he never said a word to me. That seemed to be part of the fun. Then he settled on a crude but ingenious amusement for passing those periods when we had to sit in chairs in the classroom section of the shop. He would sit behind me and, whenever the teacher had his back turned, hit me on the head with a two-by-four. Bonk . . . bonk . . . bonk, a nice steady rhythm, always with enough of a pause between blows to allow me brief hope that there might not be another. I couldn’t understand why the teacher didn’t hear all these unauthorized, resonating clonks. They were loud enough to attract the attention of our classmates, who seemed to find Freitas’s little ritual fascinating. Inside my head the blows were, of course, bone-rattling explosions. Freitas used a fairly long board—five or six feet—and he never hit too hard, which permitted him to pound away without leaving marks, and to do it from a certain rarefied, even meditative distance, which added, I imagine, to the fascination of the performance.

I wonder if, had some other kid been targeted, I would have been as passive as my classmates were. Probably. The teacher was off in his own world, worried only about his table saws. I did nothing in my own defense. While I eventually understood that Freitas wasn’t Hawaiian, I must have figured that I just had to take the abuse. I was, after all, skinny and haole and had no friends.

(Continue reading here) 

 


Bodysurfing is the Greatest Thing Ever!

But it also has a tendency to turn you into a full-blown "super prick"…

Bodysurfing is the greatest thing ever. It’s fun, it’s easy, and because its biggest devotees are hairy middle-aged men, it’s inherently uncool. So uncool, in fact, that it transcends it’s own uncoolosity, and circles back around to become extra cool.

It also has a tendency to turn you into a full-blown super prick, unless you confine yourself to the handful of “bodysurf only” spots in existence. Battling for waves with only a pair of fins puts you roughly on level with the splayed leg paddle set if you venture into quality surf. The inability to accelerate in order to  make sections pushes onto the shoulder, sharing space with the weakest and worst. Shout, jostle, jockey, you’ve gotta show those barneys who’s boss.

Unless you’re Mike Stewart and possess the ability to pump and drive through the surf like a fucking dolphin.

 


If you want to get in the surf game but you're not pro level (like John John Florence here) or able, willing, to swim out at 10-foot Teahupoo to steal a water photo (like Daniel Russo here), how about… writing! Do it in the discomfort of your own hovel too!

Opportunity! Rory Parker’s Academy for Surf Writers!

A nine-day, live-in course on Kauai! Only $2500!

I once came across an advertisement for a “Surf and Sports Writers Workshop” being hosted at the Turtle Bay, on Oahu.  For only $895 I could attend a five-day clinic and learn from the very best.

There’d be lectures and box lunches and a bus to take you to the beach where you’d do “field work.”  You’d be schooled in the craft by The Inertia’s Ted Endo and some chick from ESPN! True luminaries! But, sadly, writing about surfing doesn’t pay enough to learn how to write about surfing, so I had to forego what would have surely been a life altering experience.

Despite this handicap I, nevertheless, managed to claw my way to the very heights of the surf journalism industry. Every day my words are read by dozens of people, some of who aren’t even related to me!  And my Facebook “likes” sometimes number as many as ten!

Then I heard about the college class that Sam and Matt George are conducting in Bali (click here) which actually seems like a not too bad way for a college-aged kid to piss away his parents’ hard earned money.

The guys are good writers, the class provides college credit, and considering it includes food and lodging, it is fairly priced. Sure, they made the odd decision of incudling Allan Weisbecker’s self indulgent abortion of a second novel in the curriculum (click here), but nothing’s perfect.

Of course, I’m not going myself. I hated school, and the only college-age kids I want to spend any time with are the ones I lure into my home with smiles and empty promises.

But I can, and plan to, cash in on the idea.

Which is why I’m proud to announce the first session of Rory Parker’s Kauai Spare Room Learning Academy for Surfboard Writers. For only $2500 you can enroll in my intensive nine-day course that will show you the in an outs of achieving surf writer success.

Lodging is provided in the form of cozy bunk bed style living, in my home nestled in the beautiful mountains of the Garden Isle. Classes will be small, no more than eight students per session, mainly due to the fact that I don’t think I could fit any more people in my spare bedroom.

Rory Parker’s Kauai Spare Room Learning Academy for Surfboard Writers- Summer Session

Accredited in partnership with Bob Jones University*

Syllabus

Section 1: Lifestyle

Day One:

Lecture:  Finding that perfect spouse

How to attract and maintain a relationship with someone capable of earning a steady income.

Assignment: Students will be tasked with creating a Tinder profile that portrays them in a suitably “artsy” fashion and guided in the proper selection of suitably wealthy candidates most likely to indulge a “creative” life partner.

Day Two:

Lecture: Embracing the menial

How to rationalize poor career choices in the light of artistic expression.

Assignment: Clean my house and do my yard work in preparation for the coming years of temporary part time labor

Day Three:

Lecture: Collection

Includes phone hassling, physical intimidation, and personal confrontation.

Assignment: Students will call someone who owes them money and verbally berate them until paypal’d the balance due.

Section 2: Creative process

Day Four:

Lecture: Kill yourself, faggot

Audience interaction in the Internet age.

Assignment: Students will be guided in creating sock puppet accounts, with which they will harass fellow writers anonymously. Extra credit will be given to anyone who can convince their target to self-harm

Day Five:

Lecture: Paying rent in “exposure”

Why working for free is a worthwhile pursuit.

Assignment: Students will be denied meals while being forced to create content for a third party.

Day Six:

Lecture: Everything is always okay!

How to avoid negative characterizations in your writing.

Assignment: Write a 1500 word article hyping this year’s US Open of Surfing.

Section 3: Going along to get along

Day 7:

Lecture: To shill or not to shill

Learning to subvert the creative process in search of advertising revenue.

Assignment: Students will be tasked with turning a print advertisement into a 500-word advertorial about their respective products

Day 8:

Lecture: Brain rape

How to side step the creative process by stealing others’ work.

Assignment: 250 word article that serves to justify ripping content from an outside source.

Day 9:

Lecture: Form over function

Using sesquipedalian writing to disguise shallow content.

Assignment: Students will be tasked with turning a 200-word piece of copy into something resembling prose using only online thesauruses.

Space is limited, so get those $1000 non refundable deposits sent in ASAP!

* Rory Parker’s Kauai Spare Room Learning Academy for Surfboard Writers makes no claims regarding actual accreditation. Students are to understand that course credits will most likely be non-transferable


"Has so much cum squirt in those eyes you can't see what's right in front of your face?" Chris Malloy the fearsome director during the filming of The Fisherman's Son, a bio-flick about Ramon Navarro and his fight to save Chilean uberwave Punta de Lobos.

Chris Malloy: How to survive the commercial grind!

Or how to be a man while everyone else is looking at their phone… 

Chris Malloy, the middle pillar of the triumphant genetic triumvirate that is The Malloy Brothers, is a working class hero. A man of the people. A bronzed populist with a penchant for dusty beards, big trucks, and lush, vibrant cinematography that would make Clint Eastwood cry.

He gets his hands dirty these days working on commercial projects at Farm League, which is most certainly not a Branded Content Agency.

Malloy and friends (Jason Baffa! Greg Hunt! The Gothic Dolphin himself, Alex Kopps!) do Farm League because “life is too big (and fun and great and instructive) to keep separate from work. And that faking it is the lamest, worst, most uninspired thing a person can spend their time on.”

(Which is something we here at BeachGrit salute! No fake “big,” “fun and great and instructive” lives!)

Farm League’s done a bunch of short films, commercial spots, and even kickstarter films, working with companies like Nike SB, The North Face, Patagonia, and Ole Smoky moonshine. And Chris himself has directed spots for Dodge, Jeep, and Gerber. And they’re pretty damned good. Gritty. Durable. Steinbeckian, almost.

Most recently Chris released The Fisherman’s Son, a bioflick about Ramon Navarro and his fight to save Chilean uberwave Punta de Lobos.

And The Fisherman’s Son is good. It’s a story told well. Which is rare in surfing, especially in surf films (which Malloy claims The Fisherman’s Son is not).

I told Sir Derek Rielly I’d be chatting Chris up, and he told me the theme of my conversation should be: How To Be A Man When Everyone is Looking At Their Phone.

Well, here’s what Chris had to say.

On surf films: I look at surf films as these sketches, on ideas or periods of time. You know, they’re not linear. And they’re a great way to dabble and play with colors and sound.

On The Fisherman’s Son: I’ve known Ramon for almost ten years. I’ve been going down to that region of Chile for a long time. Early on, Ramon was this neat little Chilean kid that surfed really well. And then we met his family and got to known him really well, and he just kept getting better and better. To watch his rise was really inspiring on a personal level. And when he got on the world’s stage he decided to use his voice to protect the place he came from. I approached him about the film. We knew each other, and he trusted me.

On the commercial grind: I come in, work super hard for ten days straight, then go home for a month. I’ll fish and surf, spend time with my family.

On hopping on the Patagucci express: You know, we signed on ten years ago. At the time, people thought we were nuts. Patagonia wasn’t a real surf brand.

On Patagonia’s pater familias: We were friends with Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia founder) from climbing and surfing with him. I loved his gear and his philosophy. After a while it was like, Gee, we should work together. And when we approached him he was like, “If you guys are down to follow that philosophy, and put in some elbow grease, that might work. I’m not looking for dancing bears.” He didn’t want guys that just put stickers on their boards.

On Patagonia’s surf industry takeover: As far as Patagonia’s success, that comes from surfing. Not from the surf industry, but from the surfing community. Ten years ago there was a shift. People started caring about where things came from. And then there was the demand for better cold weather gear, of course.

On designing clothes: Patagonia’s close to where I live. It’s awesome. In, like, every department I have someone that I’ve known for ages. And it isn’t about big ideas for me. It’s about a pair of boardshorts that are so simple it’s ridiculous that we’re working on it. But we design this shit for ourselves! Whether it’s a board or a piece of gear, we focus on one thing until it’s exactly how we want it.

On where he chooses to focus his directorial eye: The more I’m involved in filmmaking, the more I’m drawn to just really good stories. I wish I was more consistent with what I get excited about. For me, my future is always the next story that moves me.

But if John John called and said he’s found some crazy slab somewhere, and wanted to go there and film for a month, I’d jump on it.


Dave Carson's Lunada Bay cover for Monster Children.

David Carson’s Lunada Bay Cover For Monster Children!

World's most influential (and imitated) designer's take on "miserable, absurd, asshole localism."

David Carson is the world’s most imitated graphic designer, at least among magazines that do “hip” and “edge” and who like to break every typographic rule there is while straight-jacketing themselves to another set of strictures.

Last week, the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Design asked him to create the publicity and posters for the next school year. Apple called him one of the 30 most Influential Mac users ever. London Creative Review magazine named him the most famous graphic designer on the planet. There’s more, too, but instead of me paraphrasing his website how about you dive in here. (Click!) 

A  while back, David designed this cover for the Australian surf-skate-lifestyle manual, Monster Children. For reasons never revealed, it didn’t run and was replaced, instead, by a photo of Alex Knost.

With Lunada Bay in the news (here and here), we figured we should talk to Carson about the cover…

BeachGrit: I love this almost-Monster Children cover of Lunada Bay.

Carson: Me too.

BeachGrit: Why did you design a cover with Lunada Bay? I mean, what a provocateur! 

Carson: Some friends of mine, mellow, good non-snake surfers, had had their car windows broken, lights smashed out, tires slashed and everything in the car stolen. And a hammer taken to the outside of the car. They also had rocks thrown at them all the way down and up the long trail down the cliff to the break at Lunada Bay.

I’ve  heard  worse stories, a few ended up in ugly court battles.

So I thought it would be nice to have a cover of “their spot” or “their ocean” on the cover of a global magazine, complete with name and location description. Plus it was just a really great image. And I liked the way the whole cover came out. Maybe the monster-ish children running the mag didn’t like that I changed their name around . I dunno. They never told me why they didn’t run it.

BeachGrit: Tell me about your relationship with Lunada Bay? 

Carson: I attended Lunada Bay elementary school then left to Cocoa Beach in Florida for a few years with my family as my dad was in charge of the first unmmanned spacecraft to land on the moon. Once that mission was accomplished, we returned to Palos Verdes where I completed my last two years of high school.

I had a friend, Jeff Kruthers, who introduced me to Lunada Bay. He and his brother Allan and their mom lived and grew up there. Jeff was one of the first to really surf the place well.

Dave Carson
Lil Dave Carson, just sweet 15 and fresh from Florida, and his first surf at Lunada Bay. Pre-leash, too.

Jeff later moved to Santa Barbara and managed the Chart House restaurant before getting into real estate, mostly in the Ranch where he continues to live and surf. He once offered me a small section in the Ranch for 5000 dollars. Before he did, he asked me, if the swell was pumping would I be able to drive into the Ranch and NOT bring a bunch, or any, friends with me? If yes, I could buy. Alas, I got busy and never quite got around to purchasing it. Ouch. Ouch. Right up there with selling my house in Point Dume, complete with key to gate around private surf point!

Anyway, I surfed Lunada Bay while in high school. My most memorable day was the first time I ever surfed it. I was newly arrived form Florida and had only been surfing a couple years. It was a Sunday afternoon, me and a buddy. My friend lost his board into the rocks and I surfed the entire afternoon alone, in the biggest waves I’d ever surfed or seen. Pre-leash. This photo my friend Guy Knight night took after he lost his board. He’s standing on the point. Something you would literally be stoned to death for if you tried today.

dave carson surfing lunada bay
Jeff Kruthers, the pioneering Lunada Bay surfer. “Classy guy,” says Carson. “So of course he left when he became an adult and headed north.”

Even a couple years later when I was invited to compete in the Smirnoff Pro am at Sunset Beach, the waves were not as big as I’d gotten at Lunada. It’s an amazingly beautiful area: huge cliffs to the  water. And even more amazing is that it’s only about 40 minutes to downtown Los Angeles or 40 minutes to Orange County. Because it’s a ways off the 405 freeway, a lot of surfers  STILL don’t know it actually exists, as they go flying by, well crawling by actually, first gear in the fast lane bumper to bumper up to Malibu or down to Trestles…..

BeachGrit: What sorta wave is it? Is it that good? 

Carson: It’s the best big wave in Southern California, easily. A right point, only breaks when a huge north winter swell is running. Lots of kelp outside keeps it smooth. An amazing set up and wave, spectacular setting.

BeachGrit: What sorta run ins have you had? 

I’ve seen or heard about more than I’ve personally had: rocks, demolished cars, stolen everything, fights, court cases, it’s ugly. Grown, outta-shape, men acting like three year olds. No, actually three years olds act better. My wave, my beach, my ocean! Most are, at best, very average surfers who would not stand out anywhere they surfed. And guys that can barely surf with their too-long guns with torn black wetsuits will spend their entire session taking off in front of non-belongers, forcing them into the  rocks and urchins. Fun way to spend your session, hey?

The wave, the set-up, it’s travel magazine stuff. Beautiful and beyond pricey real-estate. A lot of trust-fund babies with babies of their own. I stayed awhile in a house just up from the Bay that was famous because the lawyer who defended Sirhan Sirhan owned the house. Sirhan shot and killed Robert Kennedy minutes after he had won the state of California’s presidential primary, but that’s a different article.

BeachGrit: What’s the wildest stuff, specifically, you’ve seen? 

Carson: Lots of ugly, dumb shit. Localism taken to the absurd extreme. The only way you can kinda rationalize it is well, thats them, they are just as big a kook, asshole and jerk wether they are driving, standing in a check-out line, ordering fast food, on dates, at parties, at their kids sporting event or attempting to surf. Always miserable, always  jerks. Always assholes.

BeachGrit: The surf media, like me and my ilk, don’t touch it. Why’s that, y’think? 

Carson: It has been said that localism works. If it does, and if you take some kind of comfort in that, well Lunada Bay could be the poster child. Threats to photographers, mags and all others have been effective. It’s ghetto warfare there, somehow these losers found the wrong sport.

The irony is, of course, they’re rich enough to travel to all the exotic places and ruin someones else’s local break during California’s summer months when not a single ridable wave happens.